In Germany Saint Michael’s Day on September 29 marked the end of the harvest season with Thanksgiving (Erntedankfest) celebrated in a special church service on the first Sunday of October. This compares little with the American celebration on the fourth Thursday in November to commemorate the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving to God for the land and for a copious harvest.
Europe’s harvest celebrations hold a long tradition. They are great community affairs and many have their origin in pagan rituals. From early October, when fruit and grain produce could be harvested to late November, the time when winter began, people could use nature’s riches on the last warm days of the year to club together and to enjoy festivities. Through the centuries, villages all over Germany celebrated with festivals that include dances, parades, games, banquets and pageants.
Many regions gave their thanksgiving festival a special name. German wine producing areas celebrate a Winemaker’s Fest (Winzerfest) when all grapes are picked whereas Alpine regions tend to celebrate the reaping of grain. Nowadays these traditions have not survived in many villages and towns, certainly not in cities. Modern machinery accelerated the process of bringing in crops and removed the romantic aspect of harvesting as hard men’s work.
Celebrations on the evening of American Thanksgiving take place more with foreign friends than in restaurants.